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Parker Hannifin Chainless Challenge

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If you are going to be in Cleveland the beginning of next week (July 28th and 29th), you might want to check out the Parker Hannifin Chainless Challenge. Teams of up to five engineering students from quite a few different universities have been working for a year on human/hydraulic powered bicycles that will be judged and raced in just a few days. You can read the design guidelines that the students had to follow by clicking through the slideshow presentation on the Motion Control Training page of the Parker website (click the Chainless Challenge button to get there). The bicycle entries must meet criteria for reliability, manufacturability, and cost effectiveness, but the big constraint that I want to point out is this one; the motive of power for each bike has to be hydraulic. That means no chain connection between the chainwheel and the freewheel cogs is allowed. I am only showing a couple here, but take a look through the pictures of the ‘05 and ‘06 events and you can see some of the interesting machines that resulted from the unusual design constraints.

The sprint race will be held at Parker Hannifin’s corporate headquarters (6035 Parkland Blvd., in Mayfield Heights -Landerhaven Corporate Center) on Monday the 28th. The following day, the 29th, the students will have to prove their concepts with a 12-mile time trial. A map of the course, which features 400 feet of elevation change on each of 3 laps, can be seen on the website (again remember that you have to click the Chainless Challenge button to get there). The first bike to roll on the test circuit will leave the start/finish line on Valley Parkway Road at 9:00 AM Tuesday morning July 29. Those who wish to observe the contest should park at the park entrance (Scenic Overlook lot) on Rt. 82, the Harriet Keeler Picnic Area or the Oak Grove Picnic Area prior to the contest. Let me know if any of you make it out to watch the students compete on the designs they have worked so hard on. It sounds like something that will be a lot of fun to watch.

While I am posting, I’ll mention something else that I saw this week. I posted about the NYC CityRacks design competition a while back, so I want to point out that the finalists have been announced. You can see a few of the finalist at the Core blog and even more at Bustler. If you are interested in less serious coverage of the designs that were chosen as the ten finalists, read what Bike Snob NYC had to say. I was glad that he pointed out the absurdity of the front wheel locking design. Really, somebody had to do it. Personally, my favorite finalist is the Beetlelab design. It looks clean in an urban setting and it functions basically just like a good old inverted U rack. As much as I like to throw out new ideas, I am a firm believer that simple solutions are usually the best ones. I think this is a great example of a case where reinventing the wheel is not really necessary.

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  1. jimmythefly July 24, 2008 at 6:16 pm -  Reply

    Wow, two schlumpf drives, and a dual-drive hub? (top bike pictured) That’s 108 different ratios to play with! I wonder how many duplicates there are?

  2. bikesgonewild July 25, 2008 at 2:25 am -  Reply

    …not being an engineer, i find the question that begs to be asked is: what kind of practical mechanical advantage might be found w/ a pedaled hydraulic pump drive-train as applied to a bike…particularly in light of the already wonderful efficiency of the bicycle…

    …if anybody has followed this kind of application, i’m sure i’m not the only one that would be interested in knowing more…


  3. Will July 25, 2008 at 7:36 am -  Reply

    Hey Bikesgonewild,

    The only things I’ve seen as an alternative to train drive is belt drive. I’ve seen Carbon Drive (belt) systems displayed on Spot Brand bikes. Advantages: no lube, smooth and quiet, long life. Disadvantages: incompatible with current chain-drive equipment and you are forced to use a geared hub if you want more than a single-speed setup. The problem with geared hubs is you take an efficiency loss, which makes them practically unraceable (for those who care about that sort of thing, like me.)

    Shaft driven bikes look awesome. They are clean, compact, and have a long life. Again, it just isn’t as efficient as the chain-drive systems.

    I can’t wait to see what the efficiency losses are on these super-complex drive systems for the hydraulic bikes!

    Chains suck, but they have their place. Unfortunately.

  4. Garrett July 25, 2008 at 10:08 am -  Reply

    I’m sure there are many innovative ideas presented in this challenge, but I fail to understand its purpose. Unless you need to drive both wheels, I think hydraulic power just makes things more difficult.

  5. James July 25, 2008 at 10:17 am -  Reply

    BGW, Will, and Garrett, I could be wrong, but I see this competition as more of an exercise in hydraulics engineering for other applications than as an attempt to actually make an alternative drive bicycle (I probably should have pointed out in the post that Parker is involved in alternative energy projects including high performance electric scooters, wind and ocean wave energy generation, and hydraulic hybrid energy recovery vehicles). I think that the bicycle project/ race just gives the students a way to showcase their thought processes in solving a problem with a clearly defined set of constraints.

    When I was in school, we had to make a functional chair using the material from a single piece of cardboard. The goal was not to make a real product but to learn to be creative in solving problems with seemingly difficult constraints. I kind of see the chainless challenge as the same kind of exercise (on a bigger scale). Again though, I hope someone from Parker Hannifin can correct me if I am misinterpreting the intent of the project.

  6. jimmythefly July 25, 2008 at 3:50 pm -  Reply

    To add to what James said, excercises with human-powered vehicles puts focus on effeciency that could be overshadowed if this was a motorized project. The solution can’t just be “get a bigger motor”. The relative cost and complexity of the supporting vehicle makes bicycles an attractive platform, too. (though in addition to what I mentioned above, I saw two different bikes with Rohloff hubs in the photo set).

  7. bikesgonewild July 28, 2008 at 2:06 am -  Reply

    …will & james…you gentlemen aren't “getting” my query…that or perhaps i'm not expressing myself clearly…

    …& first off, i think i grok the nature of the competition…pretty fundamental “expanding horizons” school stuff, i imagine…

    …anyway, lemme try again…i’m wondering, considering the efficiency of a bicycle drive train, if there is any 'increased &/or beneficial' mechanical advantage to using a pedal powered hydraulic system over a simple ‘direct’ pedal powered system ???…
    …when powering something along the lines of, say, the ‘maya-project’ water pump or the welding rig you featured awhile back…

    …or is that adding a third step to what might be better as a two step system ???…

  8. James July 28, 2008 at 7:53 am -  Reply

    bikesgonewild, sorry I misinterpreted your comment the first time around (that is what happens when I skim through the comments quickly). Now that I understand what you were asking, all I can say is; good question- I don’t know. It is probably over my head, but I would love to hear someone else speculate on that. Any takers? Ron, jimmythefly, maybe someone from Parker Hannifin; can any of you address bgw’s questions?

  9. heavyt July 28, 2008 at 7:24 pm -  Reply

    This is an excercise in efficiency. In a traditional hydraulic system the bike rider is acting as the prime mover, an electric motor or gas engine, used to power the hydraulic system. Based on a given power input there is a variety of speed and power combinations available. All of which are fixed by the input. In a traditional system the motor speed does not change, and this is where the fun starts. With a hydraulically powered bike, the rider can constantly charge the hydraulic system at a fixed, “efficient” rate, while getting a variety of output combinations. This type of testing is being done now on a larger scale with heavy trucks that are hydraulically driven. Imagine being able to keep your car engine at a low RPM, maybe just above idle, but having the capability of normal speeds, acceleration, and power, all without burning no more gas than if you were sitting at idle. the hydraulic system allows this to be possible.
    I hope this provides some insight.

  10. bikesgonewild July 29, 2008 at 11:31 pm -  Reply

    …heavyt…yes, thank you for the input…

    …there is an “efficient” mechanical advantage to adding a hydraulic system…cool…

    …so, talking of bicycles & the additional weight of a hydraulic assist, i'm now wondering if there's any type of comparative efficiency in relation to electric-assist bikes, which are also heavier…& that would be before factoring in the need to generate said electricity…

    …not tryin' to drive anybody crazy w/ this but definitely curious…

  11. Anonymous July 30, 2008 at 3:54 pm -  Reply

    The other potential that hasn’t been mentioned in the blog is the potential for regenetive braking. By incorporating both the “efficiency” benefit that HeavyT mentions, regen braking offers further advantages and potentially makes daily work commuting with a bycicle over greater distance even more possible

  12. Anna October 14, 2012 at 7:18 am -  Reply

    another potential advantage is for recumbent bicycles or trikes which could benefit from front wheel drive. The reason to consider FWD for this style of bikes is that the traditional rear wheel drive configuration requires a very long drive-train involving long chains and idlers. Hydraulic drives would eliminate many of the problems of chain driven FWDs.

    • Robin Aurelius June 1, 2013 at 2:38 pm -  Reply

      I saw one from Germany in various sizes, looked good for what you suggest. The hydraulics could add extra weight to get better traction up front where needed on hills, or loose gravel and dirt. I am going to build one.
      Robin Aurelius

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